Skip to main content

Moira Stilwell (left) has dropped out of the Liberal leaderhip race to support George Abbott (right) in Victoria February 16, 2011.John Lehmann /The Globe and Mail

Increasingly isolated from the B.C. Liberal caucus, leadership candidate Christy Clark dismissed the latest MLA endorsements of her two main rivals as "backroom deals" by party insiders.

The perceived front-runner in the leadership contest, Ms. Clark has attracted just one government MLA to her team - backbencher Harry Bloy.

Ten days before Liberals vote on who will become British Columbia's next premier, the round of last-minute endorsements means almost the entire government caucus has divided between the camps of two contenders: Kevin Falcon, who has attracted the lion's share of loyalists to outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell; and George Abbott, whose supporters mostly agree it was time for Mr. Campbell to go.

On Wednesday, Mr. Falcon signed up two more cabinet ministers, Ida Chong and Margaret MacDiarmid, bringing his total number of caucus supporters to 18. "Leadership at the end of the day is about demonstrating you can get people to follow you," he said, flanked by both MLAs in a legislature corridor.

Less than an hour later, Mr. Abbott held a news conference across the street, packed with cheering MLAs, to welcome his 19th caucus endorsement - Moira Stilwell. Dr. Stilwell was the first to enter the leadership race but bailed out on Wednesday, conceding that she didn't stand a chance of winning.

"I want to be of help to the person that I believe can unite the B.C. Liberals and defeat the NDP in 2013," she told reporters, "and that is George Abbott."

Her decision gives Mr. Abbott's campaign an important boost. Liberal members will be voting on Feb. 26 with a preferential ballot by telephone or over the Internet - there is no opportunity for candidates who don't survive the first ballot to throw their support on voting day.

Dr. Stilwell ducked questions about how much support she can deliver to the Abbott camp, but her decision to quit and join forces with Mr. Abbott sparked a round of questions about an "anybody but Christy" movement developing in the race.

Mr. Abbott did little to quash the notion, when pressed about who would be his second choice on the preferential ballot.

"I think on balance, my preference would go to Kevin," he said. Mr. Abbott said he could work with Ms. Clark, "but in terms of the leadership style I would embrace, probably closer to Kevin than to Christy."

Ms. Clark, campaigning in the Interior on Wednesday, dismissed the endorsements as irrelevant.

"This race is not about what politicians do. It's not about whether people want to orchestrate a backroom deal to try and win. There are 95,000 members of our party in this province and they are all going to make their own decisions," she said. "I don't think many will take kindly to the suggestion there may be a backroom deal by the folks on the inside."

Mike de Jong, meanwhile, maintained he will stay in the race until the end. "I'm in," he told reporters. "This is a horse race. … I don't hear a lot of people predicting with certainty the outcome and that's because it's a very difficult race to handicap."

He said he has been courted by the three other front-runners to jump before voting day. Widely seen as an underdog candidate, Mr. de Jong has come up short on caucus endorsements despite his recent role as government House Leader. But he noted his campaign has raised $300,000 and signed up close to 13,000 new party members, so he said he should not be counted out.

The sixth leadership candidate in the race, Ed Mayne, has scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning to announce a "significant campaign decision." He's expected to quit the race and throw his support to George Abbott.